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“The Fence Sitter”

Some years ago, I was doing a workshop for kids. It was all about success: what success is, what it is not, how to attain it, and the obstacles one can expect to face on their journey towards it. I had 15 or 20 slides — and one hour to get through them. But even an hour didn’t seem like enough time to discuss, what I considered, a nuanced and intricate lesson.

Today, some 15 or 16 years later, I’ve come to realize true success is much simpler. If I were to teach young kids what success is now, I would need one slide and a few minutes.

Success is knowing Jesus Christ as Lord. A lack of success is rejecting Jesus Christ as Lord.

Ask a random individual on the street what success is, however, and you’ll get a very different answer. That’s because popular American culture defines success with a sleuth of changing and subjective characteristics. Success, they’ll say, is whatever it means to the individual. In a temporal sense, yes, that’s true. Day to day we have the freedom to measure our success based on the good or bad outcomes of our undertakings. Success one day might be making your bed. Success for another day might be landing that business deal, getting the kids packed and off to school, or landing a pay raise. In those cases, the way we experience and define success is subjective — and prone to change.

But our spiritual success — the purpose for which we live our lives and for which we were created— is not subjective. In fact, this spiritual success is a clearly defined binary.

Knowing Jesus: successful

Rejecting Jesus: unsuccessful

Of course, there is no shortage of indignant individuals who will argue against such a binary. Sure, they might be willing to entertain Jesus as a viable path to their idea of spiritual success, but they will ultimately argue for a much more nuanced understanding, rejecting the binary division of Knowing Jesus as Lord and Rejecting Jesus as Lord and opining a middle ground.

“I don’t know about Jesus being God, but He was a good teacher, and if we use some of His lessons that might bring success.”

“I like what Jesus said about loving your enemy, but I’m not so sure about all the sacrifice involved with ‘following Him’. I don’t see the need to worship him, but I think I can learn some good stuff from him.”

Take a poll, and we’ll find many people are fence-sitters, believing that spiritual success is more like a buffet of

offerings. A little of this, and dash of that.

They know who Jesus is but might not be ready to declare Him as their Lord and Savior. Or maybe they just haven’t decided yet. They feel it’s not wise to make a decision just yet; they’re in limbo; the next step is pending. In a position of indecisiveness, they believe themselves safe from any negative consequences of making the wrong choice.

But let's look at what Jesus says in Revelation 3:15: “I wish that you were hot or cold, but since you are neither and you're lukewarm, I'm going to chew you up and spit you out.”

Pretty strong language for the fence-sitter. The heart of this verse is to warn us: no decision is still a decision. There are no fence-sitters in the kingdom of God.

There are two roads to travel. It's clear. Jesus or No Jesus. So even though it looks like we have three types of people — those who believe, those who don't believe, and then those who are on the fence — what the Bible really says is, actually no, there are not three types. There are only two. The fence sitter counts as a vote against.

Our temporal success is subjective and changeful. Our spiritual success — and really, this is the success that matters and gives purpose to all our little temporal successes — is a predetermined purpose to know and be loved by Jesus Christ as our Lord and God.

Success is not about winning or losing. It’s not about checking tasks off a List to Be a Good Person. It is not legalism. It’s simply relaxing into the knowledge and relationship of Jesus Christ. Your daily successes, whatever they may be, will amount to little more than the drip of a leaky faucet, igniting a thirst but never satisfying. But knowing Jesus is a wellspring for the soul.

As a final thought, in the original Latin, the word success comes from succeedere, meaning “to come close after”. When we think of success in knowing Jesus, this should be our understanding: Our success is to draw as close to Him as we can, chasing after Him and allowing Him to bring us near so that others look at us and see Him.

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